Early autumn 1970.
That is when I first encountered Sherlock Holmes. But unlike so many other Sherlockians who have a definite love-at-first-sight moment and subsequent tale to tell, mine has two first meetings, and to tell the truth, I'm not sure which came first. But they were both in early autumn of 1970.
One was reading my first Sherlock Holmes story in an eighth grade literature book. The story was "The Speckled Band" and it was crammed in there with tales by the likes of O. Henry, Guy de Maupassant, and D.H. Lawrence. Shoving so many literary styles into a pre-pubescent brain at a time when I was making my pleasure-read transition from books on UFOs and stage magic to the science fiction of Heinlein, Clarke, and Asimov was a bit of a "pearls before swine" gesture. I didn't take to Conan Doyle's Victorian style at all, as much as I wanted to know more about the legendary Sherlock Holmes.
Around that same time, and possibly before, I was sitting in the dark of Fairfield, Illinois's Strand Theater with my dime Coke and fifteen-cent bag of popcorn when a preview for Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes came on the screen. (Side note: My ticket was still thirty-five cents, as I had not yet appeared in the junior high graduation photos the movie theater owners kept in the ticket booth to see who now needed to be paying full price.) As the great Miklos Rozsa score rampaged all over the sound system, the three minute preview built it's way to a climax featuring an attack by the Loch Ness Monster. Add in Christopher Lee's appearance, and it flipped a whole lot of my switches. (Hammer films, particularly Lee's Dracula movies, were the Strand's Saturday afternoon matinee bread and butter back then.)
Due to the fact I was a junior high kid with little control over my life in those days, I would not see that film until five years later, but a seed was planted. I'd get to the Canon in my later high school days and eventually a joyous reunion with The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes in college. But I've always wondered: Would I have gotten back to Conan Doyle without the seven-per-cent solution of Private Life that I had injected in that fall of 1970?
It's hard to separate the influence from the Sherlock Holmes of TV and films from that of the original literary Sherlock at this point. We cannot strip all of those adaptations and actors from our history and know what the Sherlockian world would look like now if Doyle alone was a solitary Atlas holding up our fan world. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar probably wouldn't be going for cocktails with the Baker Street Irregulars doing a Jonny Lee Miller impression, that's for sure.
Revisiting my Sherlockian origins this morning, I have to laugh at a certain line repeated twice in that Private Life preview, which now seem like a post-hypnotic suggestion, implanted in my young mind for a day when I would be blogging about Holmes and CBS would come out with a certain TV series. (Italics are added by me, but since the line was spoken, who knows if they were there in 1970?)
"The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes was anything but Elementary!"
Yes, it was. Yes. It was.